DETROIT -- Prince Fielder went three weeks without a homer, and the Detroit Tigers kept right on rolling. Now that droughts over -- and Fielders team is sitting pretty in the AL Central. Fielders two-run shot in the first inning Thursday night sent the Tigers to a 4-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals. Andy Dirks added four hits for Detroit, which leads second-place Cleveland by 6 1/2 games in the division. "Prince produces runs. I dont care how he does it," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "Tonight happened to be by way of the home run, but hes a run producer, always has been. Its in the book and itll be in the book at the end of this year." Dirks had two doubles and two singles for the Tigers, who took the opener of this five-game series with third-place Kansas City. The Royals have lost three in a row after a 17-3 stretch that put them in contention for a post-season spot. Kansas City now trails Detroit by 8 1/2 games in the division. The Royals are 5 1/2 behind Oakland in the race for a wild card. Detroits Anibal Sanchez (11-7) allowed a run and seven hits in 7 1-3 innings. Bruce Rondon finished the eighth, and Joaquin Benoit pitched a hitless ninth for his 16th save in 16 chances. Jeremy Guthrie (12-9) allowed four runs and 13 hits in seven innings. Fielder went deep for the first time since July 24, belting a towering drive to right-centre to give Detroit a 2-1 lead. The Tigers scored two more runs in the fifth on RBI singles by Torii Hunter and Miguel Cabrera. Dirks, batting leadoff because Austin Jackson had the night off, scored twice. It was the second four-hit game of the season for Dirks, who is from Kansas and went to Wichita State. "It felt good. Its hard to explain -- its just one of those feel things," Dirks said. "I could feel the path of the bat as I was swinging. My timing was better and everything just clicks. Your legs work with your hands and different things." The Tigers won despite an atrocious night on the bases. Dirks led off the Detroit third with a double, and then was caught in a rundown when Hunter grounded to the mound. After Dirks was tagged out, the Royals got a double play because Hunter had turned too far around first. In the sixth, Brayan Pena took too much of a turn after hitting a single, and he too was caught off the bag. Kansas City, meanwhile, stole three bases, but the Royals couldnt break through against Sanchez after scoring a run in the first inning. "We had a good scouting report today," Kansas Citys Alex Gordon said. "When youre not hitting doubles and home runs, youve got to make something happen." Gordons RBI single made it 1-0, but Dirks singled to start the bottom of the first, and Fielder went deep for his 18th homer of the season. The Royals had a man on second in the second, a man on third in the fourth and then a man on second again in the fifth. But they were 1 for 9 with runners in scoring position. After a double by Dirks in the fifth, Detroit had men on second and third with one out. Hunter singled to make it 3-1, and Cabreras fly ball to centre dropped in front of Jarrod Dyson for another run. Cabrera, who has been bothered by hip and leg injuries lately, made a nice sliding catch in foul territory near third base on an eighth-inning popup by Gordon. "Hes obviously playing in some pain," Leyland said. "Just a gutty performance, day after day. You know, weve got a lot of guys that go out there all the time -- and I dont want to slight Miggy, because hes been going out there and playing. Theres not too many guys that could do what hes doing, under the circumstances, but weve got a lot of guys that go out there." NOTES: Emilio Bonifacio, acquired by Kansas City on Wednesday in a trade with Toronto, went 1 for 4 with a stolen base. ... A concession stand was closed after a small grease fire about three hours before the first pitch sent smoke high into the air behind the scoreboard in LF, but the situation was under control quickly and hardly anyone on the field at the time seemed to notice. ... Detroit and Kansas City play a doubleheader Friday. The Tigers send RHP Justin Verlander (12-8) to the mound in the opener against Royals LHP Danny Duffy (0-0). Detroit LHP Jose Alvarez (1-2) faces Kansas City RHP James Shields (7-8) in the nightcap. Fake NBA Jerseys . The Detroit Tigers closer blew a three-run lead in the ninth inning Wednesday night against the Dodgers. Stitched NBA Jerseys . And while taking highly-touted Simon Fraser offensive lineman Matthias Goossen second overall on Tuesday night will definitely help in an area of need for the club, it was a swap of draft picks that may prove to be his most shrewd move. 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In a pregame tribute commemorating his final contest at Coors Field on Wednesday night, Helton caught the ceremonial first pitch from his daughter with his wife, younger daughter and good friend Peyton Manning watching from the field.SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- A day after learning what it felt like to be humbled, No. 10 Virginia Commonwealth learned how to benefit from the experience. After being virtually beaten at its own fast-paced style in a loss to Florida State, the 10th-ranked Rams found a way to win with their late-game toughness in a 73-67 victory over Long Beach State in the consolation bracket of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Rob Brandenberg scored 19 points and helped ignite a rally that proved to be too much for a 49ers team that lost its fifth straight game. The Rams (4-1) trailed by eight early in the second half before reeling off that 13-0 run to take back control. "I was just trying to stay aggressive and just try and help my team any way I can," Brandenberg said of the spurt. "I realize that we had to play with some urgency at that time. It worked out." The victory earned the Rams a matchup Sunday with Georgetown, the team it beat in the second round of the 2011 NCAA tournament to first land VCUs program on the national stage. VCU had four players in double figures, including Juvonte Reddic with17 points and 10 rebounds, and Briante Webber with 15 points. Rams coach Shaka Smart called it a "hard-fought win." "I thought we responded well," Smart said. "Last night was a humbling game. And thats a good thing. Losing not a good thing, but its good to be humbled because it reminds you that you have a long way to go and we have to get better. " Long Beach State handled VCUs pressure well at times, committing only 10 turnovers. But it shot just 7 of 19 on 3-pointers. It was the first of VCUs five opponents this season that didnt have at least 20 giveaways. Branford Jones led Long Beach State (1-5) with 19 points and Mike Caffey added 15. But where VCUS defensive pressure failed it in the first half, the Rams began to succeed in speeding up the 49ers in the final 20 minutes of the game.dddddddddddd It didnt always produce turnovers, but it did force Long Beach State into quick shots. A string of misses triggered the 13-0 spurt that put the Rams up 55-50 with under 12 minutes to play. Long Beach State coach Dan Monson said it was a run they didnt have an answer for. "I thought we controlled the tempo and were able to dictate the tempo for 35 minutes," Monson said. "Thats all it took, just that two or three minutes against a team that dangerous, that explosive. Our margin for error was very small and we used it in that three-minute thing and we couldnt get a rebound or that next play to get us back in it." Long Beach State got the lead back at 58-57 on a 3-pointer by A.J. Spencer, but another quick burst by the Rams put them back in front 68-60 with 2:45 remaining. A 3-pointer from the wing by Jones and another 3 by Caffey with 16.5 seconds left cut it to 72-67. Long Beach State was aggressive in the opening 20 minutes and led 36-35 at the break. Both teams were up and down the floor in a half that featured nine ties and eight lead changes. The 49ers werent intimidated by the Rams pressure and turned it over only three times. VCU was shakier with the ball with six giveaways. The Rams were just 14 for 31 from the field, but had five 3s to keep pace. Smart said he likes the direction his team is trending in during its stay in San Juan. "Our guys are only human and theres been a lot of things said about them the last couple of months. Then they get that little number next to their name," he said. "But theres a process that goes into winning and theres a process into getting better. And I think last night reminded us of that. "The way we responded tonight was pretty good." ' ' '